Moral and civic education and the public value of religious schools.




Engelhardt, Craig S.

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This dissertation will argue that it is in the American public’s interest to make lightly regulated religious schools available as a common school alternative through some manner of school choice. My argument recognizes that religious beliefs are generally the core source of meaning, understanding, motivation, and order for the individual. I claim that the public advances its educational goals when this core source is engaged in publicly supportive “private” school settings to nurture the moral and civic identities of children. I develop this argument in three segments. First, through historical analysis, I demonstrate that nineteenth century common school leaders generally viewed the nurture of moral and civic values as religious in nature. Education leaders desired to form a common “American” identity. However, within a common school committed to honoring religious conscience, this religious formation became increasingly secularized. In accord with educational secularization, the nurture of moral and civic values became dependent upon secular curricula that have not proven to be more effective than religious school curricula.
Second, with a preliminary conclusion that public interests support the expansion of schooling that engages religious views, I survey the scholarly arguments opposed to the inclusion of religious schools within a system of public funding. I conclude that concerns regarding autonomy, deliberation, equity, public unity, and the adequacy of secular schools do not inhibit consideration of the public values associated with religious schools. Finally, I present the public value of religious schools. It follows that religious schools and the communities they form are favored toward the nurture of deep moral and civic identities as well as social capital. They protect the state against claims that common schools standardize ideas and represent a form of religious establishment, and they can advance public unity by providing a means by which religious groups can reaffirm support for public education. In conclusion, I offer a general structure for a school choice system that protects both the public’s educational interests and the integrity of religious schools.


Includes bibliographical references (p. 277-296).


Moral Education --- United States., Church and education --- United States., Citizenship -- Study and teaching --- United States., Church schools --- United States., School choice --- United States., Citizenship -- Moral and ethical aspects --- United States.